Scientists stumble on promising agent for incurable cancer

Kiwi researchers have stumbled upon what could be a promising agent against an incurable blood cancer.

Based on just-published findings, Otago University researchers are keen to know whether a decades-old antibiotic and others like it might offer hope for people living with myeloma.

Around 360 Kiwis each year are diagnosed with the disease, which is a cancer of plasma cells that usually arises in the bone marrow.

The researchers’ paper described an 86-year-old patient whose myeloma had been developing for several years.

Because of his age and lack of significant signs or symptoms, the man’s haematologists had opted to observe his cancer rather than actively treat it.

But when he began a 10-day course of an antibiotic called roxithromycin for a chest infection, doctors were surprised to see his cancer-indicating paraprotein levels halve – and his haemoglobin levels increase.

Research haematologist Professor Ian Morison said he and his colleagues came across the response to the drug “completely by chance”.

The improvement in his condition continued six months after.

“In untreated patients with myeloma the paraprotein levels are usually very stable, and the size of his reduction was extraordinary,” Morison said.

“The persistent improvement in his haemoglobin strongly suggests that the amount of myeloma in his marrow has reduced.”

The research team’s interest in the response was supported by previous results from a related antibiotic, clarithromycin.

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